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NATO Officials Meet Amid Syria-Turkey Clashes

NATO member flags outside the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium

BRUSSELS -- NATO defence ministers were gathering in Brussels on Tuesday for a meeting set to be overshadowed by tensions between Syria and NATO member Turkey.

Diplomats said they expected the Syrian issue to be raised in bilateral talks on the meeting's margins and possibly over an informal dinner on Tuesday, after several days of reciprocal shelling with Turkey.

But expectations were low that Ankara is ready to invoke Article 5, which would commit NATO to intervene.

Asked about the issue, the United States' ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, would only say: "I can say in general that as a military alliance committed to the defence of all allies, we have plans for the defence of all allies."

The first day of the ministers' talks, however, was due to focus on NATO's capabilities in the face of ever-tightening national defence budgets.

Its response to the problem has included a new "smart defence" pooling-and-sharing concept, with a shield protecting European countries from missile attacks as its flagship project.

But Tuesday's talks were also expected to focus on the military alliance's common budgets, with some of its 28 member states pushing for them to be used to make sure that NATO maintains "an edge" in the wake of its Afghanistan withdrawal, as one diplomat put it.

For some countries, that could involve boosting contributions to the joint NATO budgets, while others rule out that option.

"There has to come some jettisoning of yesterday's spending to make headroom for tomorrow's spending," one diplomat from the latter group said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Everyone's going to have to give something up as we shift our needs."

The mission in Afghanistan is not due to be taken up by the defence ministers until the second day of the meeting on Wednesday.

Six of NATO's partner countries have reportedly already committed to contributing troops to the successor mission: Australia, Finland, Georgia, New Zealand, Sweden and Ukraine.

The more pressing issue, however, has become the so-called green-on-blue attacks, with more than 50 foreign soldiers killed so far this year by Afghans in uniform.

"It is a matter of deep concern for us all," a senior NATO official told reporters in Brussels.

"The emphasis is on minimizing the risk of insider attacks, but that priority is not deflecting (Afghanistan's NATO-led) International Security Assistance Force from its core strategy," he added. "The transition remains on track."

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